In today’s world of technology, having a website for your business is no longer optional. It is the best tool you have for promoting your business as well as opening your business up to potential clients outside your local area. Given this, choosing a reliable web hosting service is a critical decision.
So where do you start? It can be a confusing process of choosing providers as they range from the small backyard providers to the large national providers, all offering different services and pricing structures.
Price is usually the first thing we look at when deciding on a hosting provider and unfortunately it is often the cheap price that can lure you in.
“But X provider is so much cheaper than you so we are going with them!”
Remember – quality hardware and non-outsourced support costs money! $5 per month for services would be questionable in their value – “you get what you pay for”!
If you are planning on setting up a Learning Management System then you shouldn’t go with the cheapest hosting package you can find. Your first step in selecting a hosting provider is to ignore the price. Instead, have a look at the features that each provider offers then compare the prices.
Features to look for!
You will find a useful list of features at TheSiteWizard. Use this to begin your journey into selecting a service provider.
Let’s have a look at 10 critical criteria for selecting a hosting service provider:
The number one consideration when looking for a provider to host your website is location – putting it as close as possible to the end user. Why?
- Speed – If the server on which your site is hosted is based in the United States, as many are, your website will take much longer to load for your Australian based visitors.
- Search engine visibility – Search engines sometimes use the location of the web host to make presumptions about the location of the business behind the website.
- Support – The support is local and available during ‘normal’ hours. In addition, if there are any types of disputes, there are systems in place that are designed to protect the consumer (Departments of Fair Trading).
- Ecomony – Why support another country’s economy especially when the local product and service is available at a competitive and very affordable price?
A good general rule is that if your business is situated in Australia, always select an Australian provider who has servers that are located in Australia. Ask them where their servers are located. Some cheaper Australian providers will cut costs by having their servers located in the US — so ask the question.
2. Area of specialty
Not all providers are right for all kinds of customers. Some providers offer great shared plans but don’t have solutions that are good for growing your business. Others have great enterprise solutions but are not necessarily the right type of provider for someone with a small fashion blog. We suggest that you look into the provider’s specialty or area of expertise before you sign up. Select a provider that understands your particular needs as a customer.
Determine what type of support will you need. One of the worst things that can happen to any business is having an email issue or having the website to go down. It is unlikely that you will have 100% uptime so in the event of a glitch, it is best to have someone you can call on to get immediate resolution. That means looking for providers that provide 24/7 reliable support from a real, live, friendly helpdesk staff member who can actually find out what is wrong and fix it. Ask potential providers how they monitor the status of websites. If they are getting alerts, the chances are that the issue will be addressed before you or your customers even know about it.
4. Backup plan
Make sure your web hosting service provides adequate backup. Mistakes can be made and before you know it you have accidentally deleted a course from your Learning Management System. Ouch! In times like this, the only thing you can do (apart from crawl under your desk and assume the fetal position) is call your provider and get that disaster recovery plan into action – that is presuming they have one! It is important that you find out before that accidental deletion!
5. Uptime guarantee
Look for a provider with a strong reputation for uptime and redundancy. The last thing you want your customers to experience is a blank screen when they type in your website address. Your site can’t be seen by your customers if the provider constantly has server outages. A provider should be able to provide you with an uptime guarantee of about 99%. Make sure the server has multiple backup locations so that if one goes down, they have another already online and ready to go.
What kind of machines does your provider use? Are they top-of-the-line, out-of-the-box new machines, or are they put together from various ‘spare parts’? The type and quality of hardware used by the provider can affect the performance of both their servers and your site. The provider should be able to tell you what kind of servers they use.
7. To share or not to share
An effective cost saver on hosting your website is to go for a shared hosting service. Shared hosting means that your site is hosted on a server with dozens (if not hundreds) of other sites. This reduces the service costs, and you could pay as little as $5 a month with some providers for shared hosting.
Sounds good? Yes, but there is a downside as troubles with one of those sites could lead to problems for all the sites hosted on that server. For example, another customer decides to do a full unplanned backup of their LMS which takes the disk space to full capacity causing all sites on that server to die!
Having a fast website response time is crucial. You may prefer to pay more for access to a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or dedicated server. Although it costs more in hosting fees, it will give you have a much higher quality web server and faster performance.
8. Additional costs
Make sure you know what you are paying for. Some hosting services get you in with a low start-up price and then continue to add extra charges for things such as access, email accounts, additional domains, etc etc. Your provider should be able to give you details of all services bundled into your contract before you sign up.
You might be starting off small with a LMS that only has a couple of courses on it but your intention is to grow your online course delivery. In this case, you should consider going with a provider that can scale with you as you get bigger. That can mean that the provider offers different tiers of service based on the amount of traffic and the amount of data on your site. This will enable you to easily upgrade your plan as your business takes off.
Another important issue to consider is how your provider deals with unexpected “spikes”. There may be times when your site receives an unexpected amount of traffic. You want to make sure that spikes don’t cost you a small fortune as some providers charge very large amounts of money for additional usage.
10. Exit strategy
Read the fine print! A provider who is confident in their service will not make it difficult for you to move your domain away from them.
Brightcookie would like to acknowledge Carole McCulloch
for her contribution to this article.